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Building a Science Community in Kansas City

Posted By Dr. Shriram Venkatesan, Dr. Kevin Elliott, and Dr. Kaela Varberg , Friday, October 12, 2018

How does the postdoctoral experience differ between institutions nationally?  Could knowledge of national best practices be leveraged to improve the overall experience for postdocs locally in Kansas City?  Four Kansas City scientists – Drs. William Munoz, Mary Huff, Kaela Varberg and Kevin Elliott – attended the 16th Annual National Postdoctoral Association Conference in Cleveland, OH, in hopes of learning about institutional practices and policies to improve the postdoc experience.  At the conference they met with other postdocs and administrators from across the country and attended workshops that highlighted current challenges impacting postdoctoral success. They found that the primary challenges at institutions across the nation are as varied as the institutions themselves: from difficulties promoting participation in local events to implementation of institutional policies that facilitate career development and progression.

To overcome these impediments, this group of KC postdocs formed a new organization, with the help of colleagues – Drs. Joe Varberg, Amol Ranjan, and Shriram Venkatesan – which they call “KC RiBS” (Kansas City Researchers in Biomedical Science). Their goal in forming this organization is to improve communication and collaboration between research institutions across the KC metro. They also hope to support early career scientists through networking, outreach, and career development programming.  

In addition to fostering the development of a new grassroots organization for scientists in KC, discussions at the national meeting also shed light on some ideas that these KC postdocs believe could benefit the Kansas City research community at large. Outlined below are two key take-home messages:

1. The job market can feel saturated for postdoc-level applicants, especially for those seeking highly competitive academic positions. However, networking on a local and national level can ameliorate job search anxiety and increase one’s chances of landing those sparse and competitive positions. Participating in events hosted by local organizations, like BioKansas and BioNexus KC, is one step you can take to hone your networking skills and improve job prospects.

2. While Graduate Programs are highly structured with academic benchmarks and regular examiner committee meetings, postdoctoral training is largely devoid of such structures. Thus, postdocs must be more proactive in seeking out opportunities for personal growth and career development. Several free resources are available for postdocs who are interested in expanding their professional skillset, including the Individual Development Plan (IDP): http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/.

Kansas City has always been known for its BBQ ribs, and hopefully, as the research community here continues to flourish, it will also be known for its scientific RiBS! More information about KC RiBS can be found at the website, www.kcresearchers.org, where individuals can subscribe to receive monthly emailed newsletters about upcoming events.  You can also follow KC RiBS at their Twitter account @KC_RiBS where information is shared about events and other science-related activities in the KC area.

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